It took Regina Litman eight years--winters and summers--to earn her college degree but she persevered. She did it, she said, not to satisfy a thirst for knowledge or to get a better job, but to keep pace with the college graduates who surrounded her.
Litman, who went from high school to the business world, watched as her two younger sisters earned college diplomas. Her boyfriend of three years has a doctorate in physics. At her office, Litman is surrounded by coworkers with academic degrees. The people in her condominium complex in Silver Spring are a highly educated bunch, she says. So are the people in the National Organization of Women (NOW), of which she is an active member.
In time, Litman began to feel more and more out of place. So the young computer programmer decided eight years ago to get a degree of her own by going to school at night and on weekends while holding onto her full-time job.
Litman's efforts were rewarded recently when she graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland's University College with a degree in business.
Her academic experiences were not without some ironies.
When she enrolled in night school, she expected to be with other high school graduates. Instead, the accounting major says, she found that many people in her night school classes at Montgomery College, and later at the university, already had college degrees.
Litman says some of her night school classmates had degrees they considered "useless," degrees that didn't help them get jobs, so they had returned to school to study accounting.
Now that she is graduating at age 29, will Regina Litman stop feeling inferior to her peers?
"I'll be a college graduate," she says, "but I still will not be equal to the next person because everyone around me now has advanced degrees."
She plans to continue her pursuit of academic distinction. After taking a year off from her studies, she said, she'll seek a master's degree in business administration.
"The degree is not going to change my job situation," said Litman, who earned nearly $25,000 a year as a part-time employe and will earn more than that working full time as a computer programmer. "But I have had this inferiority complex because I live in an area where everyone is highly educated," Litman said. "Like right now, you have to have a goal in front of you. Everyone else has a master's degree."
Weighing her words carefully during a recent interview in the living room of her one-bedroom, fourth-floor apartment, the tall, slim brunet talked matter-of-factly about her life, why she initially skipped college and what drove her to return to school.
Born in Washington, Litman grew up in Montgomery County, the eldest of three children. Her father Albert is a pharmacist, her mother Jeanette is a housewife. Litman attended elementary and junior high school in Silver Spring and was graduated from the Edmund Burke School, a private high school in Washington, where, she says, she didn't work very hard. Nevertheless, she was a B student.
One reason she didn't go to college after high school, Litman said, was because she was discouraged by her score of 421 out of a possible 800 on the verbal part of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
"I am not one to go to the dictionary and look up a word," she said. She also did not like history--the only B she got last semester was in her history course. Nor did she like writing term papers and reading books written "before the 1900s."
In addition, Litman said, "I did not feel comfortable with people on campuses then (1970)."
Because she enjoyed math, Litman decided after high school to study computer programming at Control Data Institute. She landed her first job six months later, as a temporary GS-2 key punch operator for the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) in Rockville.
In 1977, after working for several companies, Litman joined PRC Data Services Co. in McLean, where she now works. The company, she says, helped with her education by paying part of her tuition fees. She worked full time until last September, when she began attending school full time to speed her graduation.
Between school and her job, the last eight years did not leave much time for herself, says Litman, who attended night classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays so that she could attend NOW meetings on Tuesday nights. On school nights, she would leave work, have dinner and go to class until 9 p.m. or later.
Relaxation, she says, came in the form of Home Box Office (HBO) movies, reading about rock and roll or listening to records--including Neil Diamond and Elvis Presley. Sometimes she plays classical music on the upright piano in her living room.
Litman is proud that during eight years of night school and Saturday classes she rarely missed a class and managed to stay active in NOW. One of several bookcases in her living room contains more than 100 books on women.
She became active in NOW, she says, because she believes "it is only fair that we be treated equally with men" and she saw feminism as a cause she could support.
Although she has lived in the Washington area all of her life, Litman has not had much time to visit historical sites--something she plans to do during her break from school.
"I had this thing about Virginia," says Litman. "Since they hadn't ratified the ERA, I stayed away from Virginia places. But now I'm ready to give in."